Times Record: LePage’s train proposal wasn’t shared with MRRA (March 26, 2014)

BRUNSWICK

Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to site Amtrak’s rail maintenance facility near Brunswick Landing would benefit businesses if it also included a multimodal freight facility, Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority’s director said Tuesday.

But MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque said no one from the LePage administration contacted MRRA regarding the governor’s proposal that a maintenance facility for Downeaster passenger trains be sited at or near Brunswick Landing.

“We haven’t been contacted,” Levesque said Tuesday. “It’s not currently part of our development plans. I know they looked at it and discounted it.”

In an undated letter to federal regulators, LePage took the side of neighborhood activists fighting the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority’s plan to build a 55,000-square-foot, $12 million maintenance facility on track between Church Road and Stanwood Street in west Brunswick to service and store passenger trains making runs between Brunswick and Boston.

LePage said federal assessment of the project’s environmental impact on the west Brunswick site was inadequate, and that “other locations in East Brunswick” would be more appropriate to “stimulate redevelopment at (Brunswick Landing).”

Officials of the federal agency planning the facility confirmed Tuesday they are pursuing only the existing proposal for a passenger rail maintenance facility at a federally owned rail yard in west Brunswick.

Levesque said “we’d benefit” from a multimodal freight facility — something that wasn’t in the governor’s proposal.

“It would be another tool in the toolbox if we had that here,” Levesque said Tuesday. “A freight intermodal facility would benefit a lot of our businesses” — particularly manufacturers and Bath Iron Works — because it would provide a new way for them to transport raw materials and finished products.

Levesque noted, “no one’s said they want to site a multimodal facility on the (base) property.”

A long-range Maine Department of Transportation plan envisions a new multimodal freight facility somewhere in Maine, but Levesque said Maine has only one site, in Auburn, that fulfills that purpose now.

“There needs to be something in this region for that,” Levesque said.

A 39-page NNEPRA-commissioned report issued in 2013 said using the old Brunswick Naval Air Station for a passenger train maintenance facility “would require construction of a new grade crossing across Bath Road, in conjunction with a steeply graded connecting track from the existing rail corridor across Bath Road into (Brunswick Landing).”

“Moreover,” the report said, “development of a railroad storage and maintenance facility on the … site may not be … in conformance with redevelopment plans for the (base).”

Currently, trains idle outdoors on track near Spring Street a block west of Union Street. When the temperature drops below 50, train engines must be powered up to remain serviceable, adding noise and pollution to the area that could be captured within the proposed facility, NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn has said.

“I think we’ve acted in accordance with the requirements,” Quinn told the Bangor Daily News in response to LePage’s charge that the west Brunswick site proposal is flawed.

She reiterated the west Brunswick site is the only one being considered because of other sites’ size requirements and the higher costs involved with developing other sites — six of which had been studied and rejected in 2013, including three in east Brunswick.

Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for activists in west Brunswick who filed suit against the state’s issuing a storm water permit, said Tuesday that LePage’s letter in clear opposition to the west Brunswick site was “good news” and “listed some legitimate issues that need to be on the table.”

“I think the point is this has not been a fair evaluation of other sites,” Bailey said. Nor has there been adequate environmental review of the current site, he said.

He said the letter offered activists a “50-50 chance” for a new environmental review.

“It should,” he said. “There’s enough environmental impact. That there was a finding of ‘no significant environmental impact’ doesn’t pass the straight-face test, with the facility that close to homes in the area.”

NNEPRA “had their eyes on this site even before they hired consultants to look at alternatives,” Bailey said. “That’s their dilemma.”

The activists’ lawsuit alleges too few neighbors received notice in August 2013 of NNEPRA’s intent to file for a storm water permit with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. That lawsuit is pending.

State Sen. Stan Gerzofsky — long a foe of the project where proposed — objected again to it Tuesday, criticizing “NNEPRA’s continued arrogance at trying to site something where it’s not wanted,” in the Bangor Daily News.

Gerzofsky, a Brunswick Democrat, has written federal officials alleging NNEPRA “abused” his constituents by siting the facility where it’s proposed and not looking at alternative sites.

“This is the single most important event happening in Brunswick that could negatively impact our environment,” Gerzofsky told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday. “NNEPRA is a creation of the state and it’s taxpayer-funded. They should take into consideration what the taxpayers want.”

Gerzofsky has supported an alternative location in east Brunswick near the former Navy base similar to what the Republican governor proposed in his letter to the Federal Rail Administration.

In another volley at the proposal, activists with the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition pleaded Monday with the Town Council to also request a new study from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Bouchard Drive resident Robert Morrison told town councilors a new study “would create a process whereby a nonpartisan federal agency dispute over who is right or who is wrong in our case.” He claimed neighbors would suffer millions in lost propery value with the town losing as much as $200,000 less in annual property taxes from the lower assessments.

At a council meeting earlier this month, Town Councilor Jane Millett, whose district includes much of the downtown area, recounted complaints about noise and vibrations from constituents and said she would like to see the trains “move further out, so they’re not an issue for the people who live there.”

Millett said she had received complaints from residents on Cedar Street and Page Street. “Apparently, what used to happen is the trains would move during the day. Now they’re not moving, but staying in one place. That’s kind of hard to take for some of the residents there. One of them has a brand new baby.”

On Tuesday, FRA spokesman Kevin Thompson wrote in an email to the Bangor Daily News: “The Federal Railroad Administration takes our responsibility under the National Environmental Policy Act very seriously and we will consider the concerns Gov. LePage has pointed out seriously, as well.”

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